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San Clemente in Danger of Being Railroaded

April 14, 2002

San Clemente currently has a single track running along its narrow, eroding beach. Nearly 35 freight and passenger trains pass daily at speeds of around 40 mph. Everyone realizes that this is an absurd place to have a rail line, but we must remember it was built in 1888. Back then, building the train tracks along the beach was the easiest and smartest way to deal with the higher cost of engineering through the hills and canyons of a then-desolate area.

Things are different today. San Clemente has grown to 50,000 people. This unique surf-side community has 4.5 miles of rustic natural beach, relatively unspoiled, except for the railroad corridor. Our sandy beach is narrower now, our majestic bluffs more fragile.

Surfers cross the tracks as they have for years to reach the great surf breaks that beckon. In addition, 2.3 million residents and visitors now cross these tracks annually. Safety, while not a serious issue in the past, has become so.

A few years ago, we learned that double-tracking was being studied for this rail corridor along with high-speed rail. Double-tracking will not only further increase the number of trains significantly but might increase speeds as well.

Surfrider and DeRail the Trail were asked by the California High Speed Rail Authority to become involved in proactive solutions and dialogue. We emphatically stated that double-tracking on, under or through our beach is totally unacceptable.

As high-speed rail gained momentum, San Clemente and other stakeholders joined in opposition to the proposed beach alignment. The rail authority appeared to be sympathetic to our concerns. They consistently assured us that no at-grade options would be studied.

Instead, a tunnel, which would not affect pedestrian access, the environment or coastal aesthetics, would be considered.

Consider our dismay when three of us from the city attended a rail authority meeting in which they unveiled alternatives still under consideration. In shock, we looked at San Clemente's options. There were two--a tunnel under Interstate 5 that would cost more than $1 billion, feature a long construction time and include a steep incline that would likely slow trains. The other option--an at-grade, double-tracking route between the existing rail line and San Clemente's fragile sandstone bluffs, except for a covered section near the pier. Cheaper and easier. Hmm.

Look out, surfers, families and beachgoers. You're about to get railroaded into disaster. It would certainly be the destruction of our beach town and our beach. Tunneling under Interstate 5 and bypassing San Clemente's beach is a far superior alternative.

Stephanie M. Dorey

San Clemente city council

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